18 February 2010

Death Ship

UK/Canada – 1980
Director – Alvin Rakof
Embassy Home Entertainment, 1986, VHS
Run Time – 1 hour, 31 minutes

Death Ship is a film best watched alone, for it is explicitly about the sudden, nauseating horror of helplessness and loneliness. George Kennedy is the perfect actor for this; he looks drunk already. Kennedy captains a cruise ship, a veritable city-sized floating metaphor for emotional isolation. It's no surprise that he opts to drown his bitterness with drink, a cruise is the ultimate in manufactured socialization. A group of people who have little in common voluntarily remove themselves from their comfortable home environment and force themselves to engage in staged, scheduled group activities. Kennedy rants at length about the hateful cruise-ship life while sweating out pure distilled gin. He is a man alone, the uranium rod in the reactor of misanthropic solitude.

That very night when his cruise ship is rammed by a mysterious and persistent radar blip, it is literally the collapse of manufactured polite society with explosions, crashing walls of water, and falling pianos. So why is it that the main characters are always the ones who survive the opening scene cataclysm? Why, even the quasi-suicidal George Kennedy was unlucky or drunk enough to survive his own ship’s sinking and be hauled aboard a tiny raft with the other survivors. When their colossal rusting adversary drifts out of the mist, they row their tiny raft around and around it screaming up the battered sides for help. None is forthcoming, but they soon find a gangplank, and the first thing they do is to send the children up first.

A plot about an evil ship should be corny, particularly coupled with a second-thought Nazi back-story. It’s just like a haunted house with some stupid historical plot: a lot scarier without a boring reason. Explicable terror is, in its lack of mystery, much less terrifying than inexplicable terror. Anything else just adds mood-killing logic, and grounds the experience far too much in the real world for it to be any fun. But despite this aside, and because the Death Ship literally “needs blood”, and takes it, it persists. Each and every death is such a bleak solitary thing, yet filled with so much screaming, shrieking and wailing, that it’s unnerving. Like life, it is a prolonged screaming solitary struggle, unassisted by friends who sometimes add to the horror by standing there unable to help and screaming right along with you as you sink. And if fighting alone against a giant evil ship doesn’t get you, no problem. Here comes George Kennedy, drunk again, and now he has a gun!

Just a few extra images from the movie, I couldn't help but include 'em.



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